FireSmart BC ask BC residents to prepare for wildfire now

Plan now, not later, for fires

FireSmart BC and Emergency Preparedness BC are calling on B.C. residents to start preparing for wildfire.

FireSmart says landscaping tasks and chores like watering and mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, and safely storing combustibles are proven to increase a home’s survivability from wildfire.

“The 2021 wildfire season was one of the most active on record,” says Jennifer Rice, B.C.'s Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness.

“I urge you to prepare for wildfire now by going to firesmartbc.ca. This is the time to get informed and take action for yourself, your family, and your community.”

Fire Smart BC says everyone can play a role in creating a more wildfire resilient province.

“While governments, municipalities, and other organizations all contribute to wildfire preparedness, your home and property’s wildfire risk level are within your control. Now is the time to take action. You won’t have time to get prepared once fire is at your doorstep," said Kelsey Winter, FireSmart BC program lead and chair of the BC FireSmart committee.

Homeowners can use the interactive FireSmart Begins at Home Manual, which outlines the FireSmart program and how each homeowner can make their property and neighbourhood FireSmart.

You can learn more at https://firesmartbc.ca/prepare/.

Pioneer Square Mall on Vancouver Island 'totally lost' after third blaze

Mall burns down in fire

Much of the Pioneer Square Mall in Mill Bay collapsed Friday in the third blaze at the empty building in six months.

The part of the building nearest to the highway was still standing Friday afternoon, but other parts had caved in. Bystanders cheered as crews demolished what was left of the building.

The fire appeared to be largely out by 4 p.m.

Reached by phone at the scene of the fire earlier Friday afternoon, Mill Bay Fire Chief Ron Beck said the building was “totally lost,” before adding: “It’s collapsing, I gotta go.”

Heavy smoke billowed across the highway, which was closed in both directions at Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road.

Traffic was detoured via Cobble Hill Road and Shawnigan Lake Road, according to Emcon, which maintains the highways. Oversized vehicles were directed to take West Shawnigan Lake Road.

Firefighters with Malahat Fire Rescue and Cowichan Bay Fire Rescue were also at the scene.

A fire truck could be seen shooting water onto the building from above.

The Mill Bay Fire Department responded to similar fires at the 12,000-square-foot structure, built in 1972, in February and November.

Mill Bay resident Craig Perdue said Friday’s fire marked the fourth time he has seen the building ablaze.

Perdue said he and his two sons were walking to a fun fair at George Bonner Elementary School when they saw the fire about 12:30 p.m. “There were 10-foot flames out the top” and about 15 fire trucks at the scene, he said.

Bob Parent, a volunteer with the Mill Bay and District Conservation Society, said he was worried about runoff from the fire polluting Shawnigan Creek.

“This is where the [coho] smolts are starting to come down … that we’ve put up there,” Parent said. “All of this could have been avoided had this been knocked down sooner.”

Lora Naherniak, who lives in Shawnigan Lake, agreed, saying the building “should have been ripped down years ago.”

“I’d say that it was like tinder, more than tinder.”

The fire could have been much worse, she said, had it happened when the weather was hotter.

Tony Sullivan, who has been staying with his son in Mill Bay for a few months since his own home burned down, came out to see what was happening. He called the building an “eyesore.”

“Whoever owns it, they were in the process of taking it apart. It was an event like this waiting to happen, old tar paper and old wood stacked in one place,” he said.

Pioneer Square is part of a land parcel called the Stonebridge Property in Mill Bay, put together over three generations by the Garnett family.

The property was acquired by the Victoria-based Limona Group, a development company.

While it has plans for a large master-planned community on part of the Stonebridge lands, it’s unclear what Limona intends to do with Pioneer Square. The Cowichan Valley Regional District did issue a demolition permit for 850 Shawnigan Mill Bay Rd. in March of this year.

The structure is now owned by a numbered company — 1225548 BC Ltd — that appears to be controlled by Limona founders John Sercombe and Michael Baier.

The 6.25-acre property is valued at $1.436 million by B.C. Assessment.

Southern rural B.C. faces largest spike in violent gun crime in Canada

Local surge in gun crime

During the first year of the pandemic, firearm-related violent crimes climbed in southern rural British Columbia faster than anywhere else in Canada, says a new report from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics.

From 2019 to 2020, southern rural B.C. saw a 34 per cent increase in gun-related violent crimes. That puts the B.C. region ahead of northern rural Ontario and rural Alberta (both up roughly 32 per cent)) as well as the Northwest Territories, which saw a 23 per cent jump.

The gun-related violent crime was largely due to an increase in "certain types of crime," including discharging a firearm with intent, pointing a firearm, and using a firearm in an indictable offence, states the report.

The upward swing in rural gun violence is an acceleration of an increase that began in 2014 after years of declines. On average, rates for these offences from 2015 to 2020 increased over those reported from 2009 to 2014.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, police across Canada reported 8,344 victims of violent crimes where a gun was present.

And while southern rural B.C. saw the biggest increase in gun-related violent crime, other regions of the country reported much higher overall rates.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and all three territories reported the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime in 2020.

In urban areas, the majority of victims of firearm-related violent crimes involved a handgun (63 per cent). In rural areas, rifles and shotguns were more commonly used, appearing in 43 per cent of such crimes. Pellet guns or flare guns, meanwhile, were involved in 30 per cent of crimes in rural areas as opposed to 20 per cent in urban areas.

Sawed-off rifles or shotguns and fully automatic firearms remain rare in Canada gun-related violent crimes at just five per cent in urban areas and seven per cent in rural areas, says the report.

In 2020, police reported a total of 743 homicide victims in Canada — in 277 of them, a firearm was used to commit the homicide.

The province with the highest rate of firearm-related homicides in 2020 was Nova Scotia. This was connected to the mass shooting in April 2020 that left 22 people dead. After this, the federal government amended regulations to prohibit over 1,500 models and variants of assault-style firearms.

Gang activity was confirmed or suspected in 39 per cent of all firearm-related homicides in Canada.

According to the report, one in four female victims of firearm-related violent crime were victimized by a current or former spouse.

Canadian law requires an individual have a valid license under the Firearms Act in order to own or possess a firearm or to purchase ammunition.


Elderly pedestrians struck by vehicle in Abbotsford

Elderly pedestrians struck

Two elderly people were struck by a vehicle in Abbotsford and are suffering serious, life-threatening injuries.

Abbotsford Police responded to the serious collision on Thursday at about 1:15 near Bourquin Crescent and Ware Street.

Once on scene, police discovered that two pedestrians, an 88-year-old man and an 85-year-old woman had been struck by a vehicle.

The pair were taken to the hospital with serious, life-threatening injuries.

"The driver and passenger of the vehicle are quite shaken, but they were uninjured, remained on scene and are cooperating with police,” says Const. Jody Thomas with Abbotsford Police.

Integrated Collision Analysis Reconstruction Service (ICARS) and police closed the intersection down for some time to conduct an investigation.

Anyone with dash camera footage or anyone who witnessed the collision is asked to contact police at 604-859-5225.

Vancouver airline pandemic job loss yields $168,609 court award

Airline ordered to pay up

B.C. Supreme court has awarded a Vancouver woman who lost her job with Cathay Pacific Airways due to pandemic cutbacks $168,609 in damages.

Justice Gary Weatherill’s May 26 decision said Frances Turcic Okano, 61, was employed full-time by the airline for almost 35 years. She spent her career in Cathay’s sales and customer service departments, rising through the ranks from a front line reservations agent to manager of the airline’s Vancouver Global Centre where she worked for the past 25 years.

“She was the most senior person in her business unit, with budgeting and hiring/firing responsibilities,” Weatherill said. “She reported directly to the defendant’s head office in Hong Kong.”

Okano’s termination came as the airline industry experienced a severe downturn in the pandemic as passenger flights were restricted.

Weatherill said Cathay’s monthly passenger numbers from March to December 2020 were less than one per cent of what they had been for the same months the previous year.

In response, Cathay introduced several measures to continue operations and reduce the need for mass employee terminations. This included special leaves and reduced salaries.

However, on Oct. 13, 2020, Cathay told Okano it was closing the Vancouver centre and her employment was terminated, effective Dec. 11, 2020. During that period, Cathay tasked Okano to handle the transfer of the centre’s operations to its Manila, Philippines office, train the Manila staff, close the Vancouver centre and terminate the 71 employees whom she supervised there.

She received a three-month severance package.

Okano filed a lawsuit alleging she was entitled to unpaid wages for the special leave periods as well as for other damages.

The airline said they were not unpaid wages but, rather, reductions as part of pandemic mitigation measures she agreed to.

Cathay added that Okano had failed to mitigate her losses by seeking new employment.

Wetherill said it was clear Okano loved her job and was devastated to lose it. Still, Okano “devotedly and successfully” managed the closure of the Vancouver operations, he said.

“I find that it is unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to have been proactively searching for a new job at that time,” the judge said.

Okano had created a resumé and looking for a job in 2021.

Weatherill said courts have been clear that, absent exceptional circumstances, the upper limit for reasonable notice is 24 months.

"In my view, given the plaintiff’s age, length of service, and management status with the defendant, this is an appropriate case for the upper limit of 24 months’ notice,” Weatherill said.

Okano was also awarded special damages of $1,784.

Summer in the can — three B.C. canned wines to try

Summer in the can

As the weather warms up and we load our picnic baskets and backpacks for trips to the beach, campsite or park, we’ll almost certainly be adding a few cans of wine.

After all, canned wine has some surprising benefits.

Canned wine is light, portable and convenient when you are on the go. Easy-breezy!

A can is a stable environment, meaning no oxygen can penetrate the packaging, so there is less necessity to add sulphur to preserve the wine.

Cans are environmentally friendly. Aluminum weighs less than glass, which is gentler on our carbon footprint, and cans have a higher recycling rate than bottles do.

The smaller serving size means you don’t have to commit to an entire bottle (or lug all that weight around) when you only want a glass or two.

Canned wines cool down quickly and stay chilled longer. Um, hello? Yes, please.

And the best reason for drinking wine out of a can is that there is no need for a corkscrew or a wine glass. Just pull open that tab and voilà! Your wine is served!

It is undeniable that the quality of canned wine has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. Some canned wines are even considered a luxury niche in a fast-growing category.

But no matter why you’re choosing it, canned wine will be the star of all summer’s outdoor activities.

Three B.C. canned wines to try

Corcelettes Estate Winery Santé en Cannette 2020 Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc blend
(Similkameen Valley, B.C., $7.50 per 250 mL can)
Lightly off-dry, bubbly and refreshing.

Stag’s Hollow Winery Syrah Rosé 2021
(Okanagan Falls, B.C., $8 per 250 mL can)
Watermelon, rhubarb with some zesty herbaceous notes.

Castoro de Oro Winery Merlot NV
(Oliver, B.C., $8.49 per 250 mL can)
Lush plum, mocha and vanilla.

New SkyTrain, electric buses part of B.C.'s $2.4B for transit in Metro Vancouver

$2.4B in transit funding

The B.C. government says a Surrey-to-Langley SkyTrain line and electrified bus fleets are among the projects that will benefit from a $2.4-billion investment in Metro Vancouver transit.

George Heyman, B.C.'s minister responsible for TransLink, announced the funds Friday, saying people throughout Metro Vancouver will have more affordable and convenient travel options, while reducing climate pollution.

The government says in a news release the funds are part of its commitment to cover 40 per cent of the 10-year vision for transit outlined by the regional mayors' council on regional transportation.

The investment plan for TransLink, which is Metro Vancouver's transportation authority, includes expanding transit service, building more bus-priority infrastructure and transitioning bus fleets from diesel to zero-emission vehicles.

The release says the plan will help TransLink replace more than one third of its diesel bus fleet, with about 500 buses that run on electric batteries or natural gas.

On Wednesday, TransLink said its recovery of ridership that plummeted during the pandemic has been stronger than many North American transit networks, but still hasn't returned to previous levels.

It says ridership across its system has rebounded to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels after reaching 59 per cent last year.

TransLink CEO Kevin Quinn says in a statement Friday the province's support for the investment plan will ensure the transportation authority is on solid ground while advancing priority projects.

"It has been a challenging few years, and we thank the provincial government for its commitment to ensure transit continues to serve residents throughout Metro Vancouver."

'It's time now' for an increase in health transfers, Horgan says

Horgan calls for funding

The prime minister has repeatedly said the best time to talk about health transfers to provinces is after the pandemic winds down, which means now, Premier John Horgan said in Saskatchewan on Friday.

“Well we’re here today, the pandemic is waning, it’s becoming endemic, and it’s time now to have that conversation,” said Horgan, who was attending Western Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders meeting in Regina. “I would hope today would be the beginning of that commitment to come sit with us.”

It’s the first in-person meeting for the western premiers since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and federal health transfers and post-COVID recovery are topping the agenda.

Last year, the premiers asked Ottawa for a $28-billion increase to health transfers, which would bring the federal share to 35 per cent from 22 per cent. At the 2021 premiers’ conference, attended virtually, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the goal is to increase the transfers, but the conversation would have to happen once the pandemic was over.

About 900,000 British Columbians are without a family doctor, including about 100,000 on the south Island, and a recent report by clinic directory service Medimap said Victoria had the longest waits in Canada for walk-in clinics. About four walk-in clinics have closed in the capital region since January, largely as a result of staffing issues. Interim funding of $3.46 million was allocated to keep another five open.

Urgent and Primary Care Centres have been built as part of a larger plan to address primary care needs, but they are critically understaffed.

In the downtown Victoria UPCC, 45.66 full-time equivalent positions are funded but less than half — 21.61 — have been filled. At Nanaimo’s UPCC, 16.83 FTE positions are funded, but only 5.73 are staffed.

B.C. Liberal health critic Shirley Bond recently said in question period that fewer than two per cent of people who don’t have a doctor have been attached to one through UPCCs.

The province has about 6,800 trained family doctors, but only about 3,500 practise in that role, according to Family Doctors for Better Patient Care in B.C.

On Friday, Horgan blamed the primary-care crisis largely on insufficient federal funding.

“We have shortages of general practitioners because of challenges with funding. Is it just about money? Yeah, it’s about money, because the money translates into services for people.”

In Victoria, he said, “we have more 70-year-old doctors with panels of 80-year-old patients than anywhere else in the country.”

Horgan expressed frustration Friday that although there has been plenty of discussion about getting to the table with the federal government over health transfers, “we’re not at the table.”

“Ottawa needs to get back in the game is to be full partners, and we’re not even asking for full partners. — we’re asking for two-thirds partners in the delivery of what is the most important national program that we have.”

Horgan said he is in the unique position of not only seeing the health-care system challenges as premier but as a patient, having been diagnosed with throat cancer late last year and successfully completing radiation treatments.

The strain on B.C. health-care workers is “duplicated across the country,” said Horgan, adding for two years, Canadians looked to health-care workers to get through an extraordinary time. “And now is the time for us to turn back to the system and say: ‘We’re going to rejuvenate and we’re going to bring forward new initiatives on human resource development so we can have more care providers for the challenges of an aging population.

“We don’t need to wait any longer to do what the public expects of us.”

Horgan said as soon as B.C. gets a commitment of long-term, sustainable health funding from Ottawa, the province can “ensure that we’re creating the spaces, or training the next generation of health-care workers to deliver those services that people need.”

In addition to addressing surgical and diagnostic wait times that have grown during the pandemic, premiers want to see money go toward mental-health initiatives, tackling substance use and long-term care.

The federal government has signed bilateral agreements with many provinces to address those needs, but Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, the meeting’s host, said it’s not viable in the long run. “We don’t know if that funding will be there two years, five years, seven years from now.”

Horgan, who broached the issue of federal health transfers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he was in B.C. earlier in the week, noted Friday that the underfunding of health care started long before the current federal and provincial governments.

The Council of the Federation, made up of the premiers of each of Canada’s provinces and territories, is scheduled to meet in Victoria on July 11-12.

Horgan and Moe were joined in Regina by their counterparts from Alberta, Manitoba, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The premiers also plan to discuss economic recovery, energy security, labour and immigration.

U.S. officials stop boat with 1,400 pounds of meth headed toward Canada

Boat full of meth stopped

U.S. authorities say they stopped a small boat carrying a large shipment of methamphetamine after they saw it riding low in the water near the Canadian border with Washington state.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said officers stopped the 18-foot Bayliner speedboat in the San Juan Islands on Wednesday as it was headed toward Canada.

They reported finding 1,432 pounds of meth on board, packed in 28 duffel bags secured with luggage padlocks.

The boat’s occupant, identified as Ted Karl Faupel, a resident of Alberta, was arrested on a drug distribution count. He made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Thursday; his attorney, federal public defender Vanessa Pai-Thompson, declined to comment.

According to a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Faupel told investigators that he had been hiking near a marina in Sidney when someone approached him and offered him $1,000 to move a boat from Sidney to Anacortes, Washington, and back.

The man said he left from Vancouver Island on Tuesday, the complaint said. He said four men met him at a Washington State Parks boat dock, took the boat on a trailer and dropped him off at an inn. The next day, they brought him back to the dock and he left in the newly loaded boat to return to Canada.

He said he did not know what was in the duffel bags, the complaint said.

B.C. aims to end 'period poverty,' expand access to menstrual products

Goal to end 'period poverty'

The British Columbia government says it is providing $750,000 to expand access to free menstrual products for people who need them and to help the United Way establish a task force to consider how to end "period poverty."

Nicholas Simons, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, says half of the people who menstruate in B.C. have struggled to buy the products they need at some point in their lives.

He told a Friday news conference that no one should have to stay home from work or school or choose between hygiene and essentials like food.

Asked about earlier calls for the province to make menstrual products available at locations such as schools, workplaces, pharmacies and government offices, Simons says there's a big difference between having the products available at home and having to access them in public spaces.

He says previous research has shown that limited access to menstrual products means people are likely to stay at home, and the task force will look at where the most effective locations might be to make products available.

Neal Adolph with the United Way says half of the funding that's intended to last for two years will go to the task force and the other half will support the organization's work to increase access to menstrual products across B.C.

The period poverty task force is due to provide a final report in March 2024.

The task force will be chaired by Nikki Hill, who has previously worked on a provincially funded research project with the United Way looking at the impacts a lack of access to menstrual products can have on a person's life.

"Before we started some of this work, we had no idea what a common problem it was for people in our communities," Hill told the news conference.

The task force will look at creating equity for those people, she says.

Students have had access to free menstrual products in the washrooms of B.C. public schools since 2019, the Ministry of Social Development says.

Vancouver police say woman arrested after allegedly abducting two children

Arrest in alleged abduction

UPDATE 12:15 p.m.

Police say a woman has been arrested in connection with the abduction of two children in Vancouver.

Const. Tania Visintin says the woman took the seven- and nine-year-old sisters from their mother's home last night, but they are now safe.

She said earlier the woman was known to the family but there was no indication that either child had been harmed or was in imminent danger.

Investigators believed there was no concern for the safety of any other children in the Strathcona neighbourhood

The Canadian Press

ORIGINAL 10:15 a.m.

Vancouver Police are asking the public to help locate a woman who allegedly abducted two children from their mother's home Thursday evening.

Investigators believe 37-year-old Alana Ridings took sisters Maryam Alshehadeh, 9, and Mary Alshehadeh, 7, from their mother’s home near Campbell and Hastings streets in the Strathcona neighbourhood around 7 p.m.

According to police, the mother and her children know Alana and there isn't any indication that the suspect has harmed either child or that they are in "imminent danger."

Investigators also believe there is "no concern for the safety of any other children in the community."

Alana, who also goes by the name Angelina Bruce, is Caucasian, five feet 10 inches tall, and about 170 pounds. She has a fair complexion and brown hair.

“The photos we have released today show what the two girls were wearing at the time they left their home last night,” says VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin.

“Anyone with information about their whereabouts, recent activities, or travel plans should call 911, or investigators at 604-717-0600.”

Environment Canada warns of heavy rain for parts of northern B.C., flood watch posted

Flood watch issued in Peace

Environment Canada warns prolonged rains will drench parts of northern B.C. over the weekend, raising the potential for localized flooding.

A rainfall warning has been issued for the North and South Peace River regions as the weather office says rainfall of up to 50 millimetres is expected between Friday and late Saturday.

Forecasters say total rainfall could reach 60 to 80 mm near Hudson's Hope and Chetwynd before downpours ease to showers as the storm moves on.

The warning says heavy rainfall on top of pre-existing saturated soils can make the situation worse and raise the risk of localized flooding.

The River Forecast Centre has upgraded a high streamflow advisory to a flood watch for the Peace Region, advising that waterways could reach levels only experienced once a decade as rain combines with ongoing snowmelt.

The centre says conditions are expected to peak by Sunday and it is maintaining a high streamflow advisory for the Bulkley River and its tributaries in northwestern B.C., as rain and snowmelt push those waterways to two- to five-year flows before their expected peak early Sunday.

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